2 September 2011 

Composer Alex Silverman has composed music for several Globe productions; including The Comedy of Errors (2009/10) directed by Rebecca Gatward and A Midsummer Night’s Dream (tour) in 2009/10 and Romeo and Juliet in 2008 directed by Raz Shaw. He tells us how much fun it has been working with the band King Porter Stomp on The God of Soho. Look out for an interview with the band themselves soon. 

We wanted to try something a bit different because we knew the world of The God of Sohowas going to be a bit crazy. The usual Globe method involves a composer writing specifically for 4 or 5 musicians who often each play a handful of instruments. They have 4 rehearsals then turn up for the tech rehearsal. You drop all the music in and it just works. It’s a very good system and the Globe has a good long list of people who can play pretty much anything, which means you can get quite a lot out of a band of 4 or 5. Before I was involved with this production the idea of using a whole ready formed band to provide the music was discussed. I got involved with that process because Raz found that he needed someone to talk musical language to musicians, someone who understood the language of how you put music into a play, particularly at the Globe.

Seven burly men

King Porter Stomp were on our radar because they played at a party here a couple of years ago and they were fantastic.  They have a very distinctive flavour, play fantastic music and are a really good band. Their trademark is very bright, upbeat and brash; a happy kind of noise. Initially we weren’t quite sure whether we would be able to fit that big distinctive voice into our world but for me as a composer at the Globe, I saw the opportunity to work with more people than I usually get to work with so the idea of having 7 burly men with beards at my disposal (and they do have the finest facial hair in all of Brighton) was kind of irresistible! It was up to me to prove that we would be able to get out of them the full range of noise and character and colour that we wanted to deal with in the play.

We did a workshop where I asked them to play a few things that I knew they had at their disposal.  I would then ask them to play parts at different tempos, or to pick out certain instruments so I could start to pick at the anatomy of what makes up their sound. In the second part of the workshop I brought a very rough first attempt at setting some of Chris’ lyrics to music and the band learnt that with me. We went through the process of me teaching them a tune and them playing it back to me and putting their own stamp on it. We tried it in various ways to establish how our process would work; it is very different to how you work with your session musicians who come in and just play.

A band is a band

The band play in their traditional line up of: 3 horns, sax, trumpet and trombone, bass, guitar, drums and an MC, Jonezy, who raps. They’ll also be playing some of the more traditional instruments that we have here that will be employed in traditional and non-traditional ways. We’ll get a real range out of them as 7 people.

They’re not really characters in the play but we don’t try to pretend there is not a band on the stage.  Their  costumes are in keeping with the actors , lots of leather, gold shoes etc! They will appear in scenes, pass through them and perform the same very prominent function that music and musicians have in plays here generally, but it is also clear that we are not at a King Porter Stomp gig.

A collaborative process

As a composer it’s my job to make sure I give people the style of material that fits with their instrument and their way of playing. King Porter Stomp have been very forthcoming and collaborative in that process. They are something of a collective, writing tunes together but they are working with someone else’s music for the first time which is very unusual for them.

The band have a real positivity about them. They play festivals, make records, do gigs, they make music, and they do it because they love it. They haven’t done theatre before but they are completely thrilled to be here, and are very turned on by the business of being around creative people and contributing to a bigger thing. They have thrown themselves whole heartedly into this project and don’t bring any ego with them.

We have one additional singer, a counter tenor ‘Hairy Dave of Sheringham’, hired not only because he has among the best beard in early opera which does fit very well with the band, but he’s a fantastic singer who I’ve known and worked with for about 10 years.  He’s a counter tenor which means he looks like a man but sings like a girl, very high. It’s an ethereal sound, sort of heavenly, sort of gender confused which describes quite a lot of elements in the play. It also gives us access to some softer and gentler colours that will compliment some things that I’m getting out of the band.

Much of the language is very challenging. It’s always on a knife-edge, it’s very daring, ranging from filthy, to poetic, and cosmic.  It’s extremely bold and has a rhythm of its own which is like reading Beckett or something. The pacing of this piece of writing is absolutely sublime, it’s a masterwork.